What is Gypsy Caravan Tribal Belly Dance? Sharing words from Akasha!
Good day to you my friends!
Let me preface this day’s post with saying Akasha Mae studied with me several years ago, and is currently reviewing our Collective Soul Level One and Teacher Training Level One, coming back to her desires to resume teaching our dance! I am delighted for her renewing love for the dance and for diving into her desires. Part of our CS and TT certification intensive courses involves lots of questions, soul searching, journaling, and sharing online with our private global network. (This is the online version of the course, it does also have in person intensives around the globe, see schedule below.)
I am currently running two CS online courses, Levels One and Three.The dancers from around the world in both of these courses are blowing my mind, with their thoughts and words and determination to be the best dancer they can be. I am here to guide them on this journey. I can give them inspiration and motivation. What they get out of it, they put into it. I cry almost everyday with insight and pride and joy as I read what they share with me about their journeys on this dance path. Beautiful, poignant, painful, enlightening, soul wrenching, excitement, with visions of themselves now and in the future. Of taking time for themself, to do this for themself, self-love and life processes! Wow… So Akasha writes, when asked what is Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance® to her…
What is Gypsy Caravan Tribal Belly Dance?
by Akasha Mae
CS grads…Akasha with Lisa Newton (Australia) and Kitieria ( Washington), 2011
In the beginning days of Tribal Bellydance, Paulette Rees-Denis studied with Carolena Nericcio early on and was a founding member of FatChanceBellyDance®, mid 1980’s in San Francisco. Paulette, later, moved to Portland, Oregon. She, of course, wanted to continue with this wonderful dance form, but also wanted to make it her own. Some of things that she changed, or that developed differently over time, are specifically some of the reasons that I chose to study Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance®, even though it is not as well known here in Idaho ((but I hope to change that, now that I am back!))
Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance includes pieces of authentic dances from North Africa, Morocco, India, and Spain (Flamenco). She fused these styles with some elements of regular, oriental belly dance, and made them more ‘’contemporary for the modern dancer”. Gypsy Caravan Tribal Belly dance (GCTB), started in 1991, is branded as such in 1991 because “Tribal Style” was quickly becoming a broad term, and it is truly Paulette’s spiritual child. “She birthed, nurtured and encouraged it through its changes and growth,” to quote one of my Collective Soul classmates, Cheryl Sulyma-Masson.
I want to give you a tiny bit of my story. I danced with Cairo Fusion Belly Dance, in Boise, Idaho, from 2005 – 2011, and it is an awesome fusion troupe, but not straight up “Tribal Fusion.” Director, Samira Simmons, has more of, what I would consider, an original background in Cabaret or traditional belly dance, and she originally added things like hiphop, a touch of modern, and a touch of Tribal fusion. It has developed into an awesome “progressive fusion” style all her own! (Homage to my original dancing home!) I broke away from Cairo Fusion in 2011 because I really wanted to start teaching, (I love teaching, always have), and also needed more time to train in some new styles. I wanted to differentiate myself from Cairo Fusion, as well as better myself as a soloist and a teacher. So, I started soul-searching, and online searching, where I was going to go from there to train in more belly dance.
I decided that I really wanted to start by going to the Tribal roots. As you know, Tribal Fusion is really big and has been for the last 10 years or more, but I wanted to go even further back and learn where Tribal Fusion came from, too, and learn some straight-up Tribal belly dance. Not only was I attracted to the movements that I associated with “Tribal,” but I was also greatly attracted to some of the other aspects of Tribal, such as community and group improv! I was raised to be community minded, and I love the sisterly and the family feeling, and the larger community, that comes with Tribal. And, though I spent the previous 6 years in a choreography troupe, as a soloist I always leaned more towards improv and really wanted to be able to do that with a troupe! How cool, would that be??
“Now what?” I thought. At the time, I only knew of two main types; ATS and Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance — these were the original two styles. I did research on the two styles! I really looked into both; as much as I could without knowing anyone, personally, who taught either style. I watched lots of videos! Videos of dancing, several different troupes and big shows; videos of interviews and introductions in styles; and what I could find on the two styles and their founders, and the founders’ approaches; and what makes their styles distinct.
All of the things that really stuck out to me as different are also all reasons that I chose, and love, Gypsy Caravan. In general, I love that Paulette has a strong background in, and in teaching, yoga! I think this is important, and it is apparent in how she addresses posturing and moves. I love that Paulette keeps the body balanced and on a good axis and pillar. That the body is allowed to flow and there aren’t any moves that are going to hurt your body; you can dance this your whole life without worry. If you’re posturing is correct, you needn’t worry, for example, about the discs in your back like in some styles of Tribal or belly dance, or dance in general. Gypsy Caravan is more “natural” posturing, and less “over-extending.” Your back is safe, and your shoulders and knees are not overly stressed or stretched.
I also chose Gypsy Caravan because it is much more equal on both sides of the body than, specifically, ATS is. Now, I know a couple of ATS friends that would immediately disagree with me, but let me explain. They would say that even when the right hip is the only one leading (which it is, a large majority of the time), that the left leg is also being used to balance and bend and move, etc. But, I disagree that this makes it “even” or “equal” use in the body. When one is facing an angle and doing things with the body that lift mostly on one side, say with that hip up on the toe, and the other flat footed, for example, different muscles and stabilizers are being used to an unequal degree on both sides. It develops muscles and tendons differently on each leg, because the balance and the support are not the same on both legs. (That left leg and right hip are going to be very strong, though!)
It is not only posturing and angling that are much more equal on both sides of the body in Gypsy Caravan, but also the moves, combos, and traveling moves are all danced on both sides of the body, and to both sides of the stage, much more often. Not only is more equal movement important for a balanced body, but I also feel that this adds A LOT to the performance if you are performing this dance (many dancers choose to NOT perform which is awesome too). More repertoire equals more diversity on stage, more often. As a performer, this gives you a lot more to play with, more to communicate to your sisters, more moves to keep your interest at any given moment, more choices with which to interpret your music. Also, I feel, it will take a lot longer for an audience member, experienced or not, to see “all that there is to see” in GCTB.
I found this to be very true as an early observer, myself, when I was doing my research to make my decision. I felt like GCTB had much more variation due to the left side of the body, and also because there are more short phrases, and, it seemed, more variations on each small sequence. I explain it like this: Both GCTB and ATS have “words” and “phrases,” if you will, that we communicate with when we dance. We communicate these to the other ladies we are dancing with and to the audience. If you ask me, there are more “words” in GCTB than in ATS; ATS tends to be more “phrases” and longer “phrases.” So I feel, that as an observer, you will recognize combos in ATS more quickly than in GCTB when you watch troupe after troupe at different shows. It didn’t take me long, anyway, before I felt like I had seen some of the longer combos in ATS enough times that I felt like I was watching chunks of choreography mixed up in a different order, to different songs, with different troupes. Don’t get me wrong, these “words” and “phrases” are so beautiful and enjoyable to watch in both styles, but I really enjoy the quicker changes, and larger single “word” vocabulary that GCTB offers.
I love the degree of creativity that this leads to! I want our dance (my troupe when I’m teaching) to be dynamic! I want there to be lots of variation! I want each of my students to be able to say something different, and in their own way, and find their own favorite sequences, etc. Maybe they’ll come up with a sequence, or “sentence,” that I would have never tried unless they lead? And that’s awesome! More invention and creation more often! With more choices, both with more “words” and with many more moves on both sides of the body, I feel that this is more easily possible. Also, I really want it to stay fresh to the audience! Especially since, in my local belly dance community, the majority of our ‘audience,’ at a lot of the shows, tends to be the same 50 – 100 dancers and our families and friends; so, they will see us a lot! 😉 There are lots of great festivals to perform at here in Boise, Idaho, as well, and of course I want to stay fresh for the general public, as well.
More drastic change of topic, here, but I now simply must tell you about another aspect of Gypsy Caravan Tribal belly dance that is so special and different and wonderful! GCTB is, without a doubt, the most grounding and spiritual form of belly dance that I have ever experienced! Firstly, it is literally more grounded in form, in that, the feet are mostly flat; more so than any other belly dance that I have come across. Wonderfully “earthy.” It is also more grounding in spirit due to breathe work and stretching, going within, and being ever so present in the moment. One needs to be present and connected to truly create freely. In GCTB, we also practice opening up from the solar plexus and the heart chakras while we dance and communicate with our dance sisters. In class, we practice walking, gliding even, with power and grace. We practice mirroring and eye contact; partnering and circles. We start and end class in circles, and really connect with each of the sisters we’re lucky to dance with. You will find a deeper connection within yourself, with your dance, with your dance sisters, and with the universe when you get to experience what GCTB is all about.
There are also wonderful, practical results from these practices that bring me to another thing that is unique about Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance: GCTB uses far fewer “cues” than other Tribal forms. This is possible because of the presence and connectedness that is developed by GCTB dancers. It builds awareness, presence, and focus. These things all make it easier to pick up on small changes in our dance sisters: their posture, their eye contact, a small change in their hands or gaze, etc. We are ready to change, we are ready to move, we are ready to follow. Like all Tribal, or group improv forms, we practice being good leaders and good followers, but the extra akashic connection makes this easier, more intuitive, and more organic. It sometimes feels as if we do group improv as a new mini collective consciousness! How awesome is that? This, along with really learning and internalizing the moves, combos, and music as an individual, really lends to a smooth, free flowing group creativity. Some may find the fewer number of cues to be intimidating, at first, but when you stick with the dance, you will find the subtler “cues” and nuances are certainly there when you’re tuned in. And in the meantime, your dance sisters will support and follow you along the way!
I must also touch on how Gypsy Caravan brings forth “Goddess energy,” or the “Divine feminine,” in us all; as individuals, as a troupe, or even as a larger community. I love that Tribal belly dance is so honoring of the feminine, of our bodies and spirit; our power, our grace, and our open hearts. We work to become the best versions of ourselves, physically, and spiritually, and the best sisters we can be, though this dance. This dance also works on all the important feminine areas in our body; like our pelvic and hip area, where we create dance and grow life! Our diaphragm, and solar plexus, and heart center, too. It moves and strengthens and develops parts of the body that other dance forms may neglect, like the lower pelvic area and internal muscles of the hips and hip flexors. In any dance you use your core, your legs, and your arms, and Salsa probably comes the closest to using the hips and belly as belly dancers do, but there is more. Belly dance, Tribal belly dance, uses almost every part of the body with emphasis on our feminine form, and it strengthens and tones our bodies and core. It helps us feel more beautiful, feminine, and sensual; more comfortable in, and accepting of, ourselves, our bodies, and our passions. And it looks and feels beautiful on women of all size, shape, age, or cultural heritage!
Tribal belly dance, in general, also builds community in the larger belly dance community (or, at least, it definitely should do so). We try to include and encourage other dancers, troupes, and styles, to help build that larger “tribe.” I feel like Paulette and her professional troupe, Gypsy Caravan, and her teachers all over the world, do a great job at this. All the members of her professional troupe were nothing but open and welcoming, when I originally studied GCTB in Portland, in 2011. GCTB is all around the globe, and the dancers stay connected to each other through Paulette, through her forums, groups and websites, and through events and workshops. Paulette puts on events and workshops both in dance technique and instruction, and in exploring your dreams and goals, your heart and soul, through dance, journaling, meditation and yoga. And those you meet along the way, will always be your dance “family!”
One last thing I must mention: I love how much Gypsy Caravan Tribal Belly dance instruction teaches dancers (and any musicians that like to play along with us) about music, counting, rhythm, phrasing, and middle eastern music and instruments. GCTB teaches dancers to find the beat, find the downbeat, count music, speak the drum rhythms, and find the musical phrases. These things are powerful additions to our “toolbox” as improv dancers. This knowledge helps us lead to our group in ways that make sense musically, and flow and mesh with the musical phrasing. And even if you have no musical background before starting GCTB, you can learn things along the way! I love that GCTB acknowledges the importance and usefulness of knowing your music well.
Obviously, I love this style! This heartfelt, heart lead, heart-centered Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance! I love the cultures that are represented in the dance and combos! I love the music and musicality that come along with them. I love the sisterly love and community building that is an active part of the dance! I love the group improv, and creating unique art with others, every time we dance! And I love the healthy, internal strength and joy we develop in our bodies and hearts along the way! We would love to have you join us! Yallah!!
See what I mean? I read what my students journal about when I ask questions. To hear about their own dreams, to find out what this dance means to them, and what they love about it… there is nothing finer for a teacher to watch as their student unfold into themselves with this dance, not only as a catalyst for their dance dreams, but for their life… to celebrate and blossom and live as a strong and healthy creative human being, passing on the love!
Blows my mind! Thank you so much Akasha for sharing your heart and soul with us today… Blessings to you on your journey…
What’s coming up?
***Ohhh, new Tshirts will be here soon! So excited…. Caravan Project, Tribal Grooves, GCTB…sharing soon…TBA
Moving on…Akasha also comments on CS…
What is Collective Soul?
Collective Soul is dance and self-exploration, community and immersion. In Collective Soul we learn some of the steps and combos that make up Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance®. We get to learn from and share with Paulette Rees-Denis herself. She not only shares with us the moves, but her heart; her thoughts and feelings on dance and Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance (GCTB); drumming, zilling, and other musical ideas; and journaling and much opening up to ourselves and each other. It is relaxed, healing, and intense, all at the same time! And you will complete it knowing more about GCTB and more about yourself, your body, and your dance goals and dreams. And you will also leave with a larger family of other GCTB dancers and sisters!
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE LIFE-CHANGING GYPSY CARAVAN TRIBAL BELLYDANCE® INTENSIVES?
Collective Soul Levels One and Two and Three— In Person around the Globe!
- Melbourne, Australia with Nina Martinez
- April 13-16, 2016, Collective Soul Level 1 & Level 2, contact Nina@gypsycaravan.us
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Amanda Richardson–
- February 19th-22nd, 2016, Collective Soul Level 1 & Level 2, contactAmanda@gypsycaravan.us
- Glasgow, Scotland and the UK with Deirdre Macdonald —
- Sept 3-4 Collective Soul One, Workshops
- Forres, northern Scotland- with hostess Caroline Bury
- 24-25th September Collective Soul One, workshops
Innisfail, Australia with Nina Martinez —
- September 5-8 , 2016–Collective Soul Level 1 & 2, plus Tribal in the Tropics–workshops–Sept 10-11,
- contact Nina@gypsycaravan.us
- September 12-16, Collective Soul Level 3 and Teacher Training Level 2 with Paulette!
- September 5-8 , 2016–Collective Soul Level 1 & 2, plus Tribal in the Tropics–workshops–Sept 10-11,
- Auckland, New Zealand with Paulette, contact hostess Christine, firstname.lastname@example.org
- September 17+, 2016 TBA, with Collective Soul Levels One, Two, and Three
- Milan, Italy with Cinzia DiCioccio and Deirdre Macdonald, March 2016, contactCinzia@gypsycaravan.us